Ventus – Day 38 of 135


The bowl of the sky was being filled. Jordan could see stars only near the horizon; the rest of the firmament was taken up by the dark mass of a vagabond moon. He had never seen one so low to the ground before–had never realized how big it was, like a thunderhead. It seemed ready to drop on him at any moment.

From a distance the moons seemed featureless, but up close he could make out tiny patterns in its dark skin, like the veins of a leaf. And directly above him, in the center of the bowled-in sky the moon made, he saw a deeply black star-shaped opening appear, and motes of light drifted silently down from it.

The Heaven hooks. He could see them among the lights now: black filaments, like spider’s thread, with the lights strung along them like paper lanterns at a fair. Everyone knew the hooks rode on vagabond moons, reaching down through clouds like the hands of a god to scoop up entire fields. He had never seen them before–no one he knew had. But he knew the stories.

The entrance to the manor was only a hundred meters away. Jordan put his head down, and ran for the doors.


Linden Boros picked up Axel Chan’s sword. The blade was covered in blood. The lord turned it over in his hands thoughtfully. “Foreign make,” he said. “Could be Iapysian?” A fresh commotion was breaking out in the hallway outside Yuri’s bed chamber. The whole estate, it seemed, was erupting with noise.

“What does it matter,” said the lieutenant at his side. “We know Brendan Sheia is behind this.”

Is that so?

Silence fell like a cloak across the room. Calandria stood on her tiptoes to see what had happened.

Brendan Sheia stood in the doorway. He had one hand on the pommel of his sword, otherwise he appeared calm. “Is it wise to jump to such conclusions, brother?”

“I’m not your brother!” Linden paced up to him. “It was very stupid of you to come here, Brendan. I suppose, though, it saves you the humiliation of being run to ground.”

“You’re too quick to jump to conclusions,” Brendan said. He went to Marice, and gravely bowed. “My lady, I don’t know what to say. This is terrible.” Again, Marice turned away.

Brendan Sheia wheeled about like an actor on stage. He knew he had the attention of every person in the room. He was a hulking man with a square face, black hair and beetle brows. He wore a house coat embroidered with the family crest, and simple grey breeches, a doubtless calculated attempt to look like he had come from his own bed chamber, which the sword spoiled.

He would have had to be insane to enter this room without the weapon, judging from the way people were looking at him.

“What is that?” He nodded at the sword Linden held. “The murder weapon?”

“Yes,” said Linden, “and as soon we find which of your men it belongs to, we’ll pin him to the south wall with it–just ahead of you.”

“One of my men?” Sheia frowned. “Not likely. That belongs to one of our other guests… the tawny fellow, you know, the irritating one.”

“Sir Chan,” said Linden’s lieutenant.

“Yes, that’s the one. Where is he during all this commotion?”

Linden looked at Calandria. She had nothing to say, but simply shook her head.

“Perhaps you do need to tell us the reason for your travelling clothes,” Linden said to her.

“Well then.” Sheia crossed his arms and glowered at Calandria. “It seems straightforward.”

“Not necessarily,” said Linden. “They have no motive. Quite the contrary.”

“Maybe they were hired by Sheia,” said the lieutenant.

Sheia guffawed. “They’re agents of Ravenon, by their own admission. By this one stroke they’ve sown disorder in both Memnonis and Iapysia. Considering the troubles Ravenon’s having, they’d love us to squabble within ourselves. If you don’t see that, Linden, you’re an idiot.”

Linden stepped toward him, white-faced. Sheia ignored him, turning instead to Calandria. “So Lady May was taking the servants’ stairs, was she?”

“If the assassin got away,” Calandria said, pitching her voice clear and steady, “why did he leave his sword? That seems like a rather large oversight.”

“Perhaps he was overwhelmed by what he had done. Or, maybe he was hurt?” Sheia appeared to consider that idea. “It looks like quite a fight happened here. That being the case, brother,” said Sheia, “wouldn’t you agree we should be hunting for Chan?”

Linden appeared to have regained his poise. He snapped his fingers at two sergeants, who came to attention and hurried from the room. “There,” he said. “Now let us get back to the question at hand: namely their connection to you.” He nodded to two more men. They moved forward to flank Brendan Sheia.

“Before you make an ugly mistake,” Sheia said, “consider your options. Who are you going to put to the question here? I did not kill Yuri. With him gone, the family needs us united–it is imperative to our survival. If my men hear you’ve imprisoned me, there’ll be a bloodbath, and nobody wants that. You can find out for sure who killed Yuri. Ask her.”

Linden laughed humorlessly. “We will. But you’re not going anywhere until we’re done. Bring her.” He turned to leave.

“Wait!” August jumped between Calandria and the Boros’. “She is no assassin. I can vouch for her.”

“And bring him too!” Linden cried. He flipped his cloak about himself angrily as he stepped from the room. Sheia laughed richly as he followed.

“Wait!” August shouted. A soldier clouted him on the side of the head, and he went down on his knees. Another man took Calandria’s arm and pushed her roughly toward the doors.

She had just turned to snap something rude at the man, when the ceiling caved in.


Turcaret laughed spitefully. “You are too late. The Heaven hooks have come, to take your young apprentice. Doubtless they will take you, too.”

Axel stared at the sky. “Oh, shit,” he whispered.

The biggest aerostat he had ever seen was hovering over the manor house. They were a common enough sight in the skies of Ventus, and very similar to the aerostat cities he had seen on gas giants and dense-atmosphere planets. The thing was just a hollow geodesic sphere about two kilometers in diameter. It didn’t much matter what you built one with; at that size it would remain airborne despite its mass because, due to its high surface-to-volume ratio, sunlight would trap enough heat inside to create buoyancy. On other worlds entire cities lived in the bases of the things; here on Ventus, Axel had been told, they served as bulk transport for minerals and other terraforming supplies. No human had ever entered one and come out again, of course–they were purely tools of the Winds.

The belly of this aerostat had opened out like the petals of a flower–or more ominously, like the beaked mouth of a octopus. Hundreds of cables woven round with gantries and buttresses tumbled into the high air from this opening. He could see them spiralling down at him in glimpses highlit by Diadem, the world’s one true moon.

“They will take you, Chan!” Turcaret shouted. “It was going to happen, if you lived. Somehow you and yours have offended the Winds. They have taken notice of you! My killing you was an act of kindness, don’t you see? I would have spared you this!”

“Shut up,” Axel said distractedly. What the hell was the thing doing here? This couldn’t be some random event; his briefings on Ventus had never mentioned an attack like this. But the Winds treated any technology not of their own creation as a pathology to be removed. Axel had thought he and Calandria had succeeded in hiding their nano and implants from the rulers of Ventus. Maybe it hadn’t worked.

Axel had to get to Calandria, and Turcaret happened to be standing on the only door. “Out of the way, you bastard,” Axel said. Turcaret’s face was lost in darkness, but Axel could see he was shaking his head.

“I will deliver you to them,” said the controller. “It will be my pleasure.” He shouted something into the sky in some old language. Past his dark outline, Axel saw a thing like a caged claw, big as a house, fall straight at them. Just before it hit, great lamps like eyes blazed into life from its crossbeams.

The roof disappeared with a great slap Axel felt in his bones. Dust and scraps of shingle and wooden beams shot into the air, and he was airborne too before he knew it. He landed on his side on the roof, which swayed and pitched like the deck of a ship. Something bright as the sun, and howling like a million saws, planted itself in the roof next to him and twisted this way and that. He smelled hot iron and ozone.

Axel rolled onto his stomach. Turcaret was crouched two meters away, also looking up. Axel willed himself to stand up, but his strength momentarily failed him. As he was struggling onto his elbows, Turcaret sent him a silent, contemptuous glare, and hopped down through the hole in the roof.

A metal tower reaching all the way to heaven was heaving its base back and forth through the ruins of the manor. Only part of one wing had collapsed, so far, but the thing had hundreds of arms, and these pounced out and down into corridor and chamber, and through the dust he could see some of these arms passing struggling human forms inward to the thing’s central cage. Horrified, he rolled away from the sight.

He came up against the door, which had popped open. The stairs leading down appeared quite unscathed. A last glance back showed Axel that other giant arms had landed on the grounds and by the stables, in a rough circle around the main building. They were eating the trees.

Axel wailed and fell through the open door.

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